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September 16, 2007

They're Thinking Big At The Top

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Brother Nicholas has been arguing that Democrats should feel confident about their ability to win a lot of Senate seats in 2008, and he's entirely right.  At this early point, we're favored to take at least three seats from the Republicans (CO, NH, VA) and maybe a fourth (NE).  The silver lining behind Democratic capitulation on Iraq, to talk like a mathematician,  is that it reduces the 2008 election to a problem previously solved.  2006 showed us that we can destroy the GOP in an election where public anger about the continuing Iraq War is the big issue, and in 2008 we'll be replaying that scenario with 7 more GOP Senators up for re-election than last time. 

Zooming out a little bit, the leadership situation looks promising.  After leading the effort that won us six seats in 2006, Chuck Schumer is coming back with his top-notch recruitment, fundraising, and cash allocation skills.  The first two of those have already been on display -- the DSCC is winning the fundraising battle by a lot, and we've got our dream candidates in Virginia and New Hampshire.  (I hear that before Schumer, powerful but safe incumbents would often wrangle funds out of DSCC chairmen, and it's good to see the end of that.)  On the other hand, I don't know if I'm allowed to hope that Karl Rove will be advising the GOP on last-minute spending again.  It's the one area in which he's an absolute idiot.  He had the GOP throw money into their big losses in New Jersey, Maryland, and Michigan, even as they lost Montana and Virginia by the slimmest margins. 

While we obviously don't have the calendar advantages in the House that we have in the Senate, there's reason for optimism there too.  The Iraq-related devastation of the Republican brand will help us at the House level, and it's great to see that DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen has vowed to take advantage of that by expanding the field and helping in more races.  In keeping with that strategy, he's replaced the weakest link in our 2006 effort -- executive director John Lapp.  Lapp's narrow focus on battleground districts was a major factor in our losing 13 out of 19 races that were decided by 5000 votes or less.  Many of our candidates in the tightest races -- Larry Kissell, Gary Trauner, and Victoria Wulsin, for example -- got no support from Lapp, who was in charge of DCCC independent expenditures.  I don't know Lapp's replacement, Brian Wolff, but Van Hollen's openness to casting a wider net makes me hopeful that Wolff will play it smarter.   

In any election, there are good reasons to cast a fairly wide net.  (Obviously, I don't mean that you should spend millions on a Senate race where you're losing by double digits in the final weeks.)  Resources of all kinds are faced by the problem of diminishing marginal returns, and the two-millionth dollar spent on a race will probably move fewer votes than the hundred-thousandth.  Dumping late money into a district already saturated with TV ads can't be as effective as early ad buys to define the candidates and shape the media coverage. 

September 16, 2007 | Permalink


Brother Nicholas'argument would be right on the money were it not for the fact that hundreds of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians will die in the meantime.

Posted by: Katherine | Sep 16, 2007 4:30:01 PM

Exactly. but then the crassness of the post is supposed be ignored because, you know, the Democrats will win.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 16, 2007 4:43:55 PM

I'd much rather we get out of Iraq. Given Nick's post at the beginning of the weekend, I'm sure he agrees. But it doesn't look very likely that we will, and the important question is becoming -- what are we going to do in the wake of the reality that we'll be in Iraq until 2009?

All we can do now is work for the nomination and election of a Democratic president who will take us out of Iraq, and for the election of enough reasonable Senators to avert wars in the future.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 16, 2007 5:03:06 PM

This is the part that shows you and I are in different realities:

"All we can do now is work for the nomination and election of a Democratic president who will take us out of Iraq, and for the election of enough reasonable Senators to avert wars in the future."

I have lost faith in my party. Apparently, you have not. They have the power to act now. That they choose not to, and instead choose as your post rather crassly states, to play politics with this, says it all. Reading your post , in fact, that's understood.

"That" being they can't be trusted to do the right thing. And certainly with more power there is no reason to conclude they will do the right thing. Look at the states in which we are expected to win for God sakes. They are all moderate to conservative.

Certainly, they no longer have to worry much about any real threat from once vibrant A list bloggers either. You are too busy trying to keep things civil or too afraid to not be a part of the party should you back the wrong horses.

I would reward behavior. The only reason why I support Edwards, and this is about all, is because he is putting his present behavior where his words are. I could imagine supporting Dodd too. Yet, what most enamours the party? Those who are the least likely to do anything at all. Those who parse every word and keep their fingers pepetually in the DC CW. Not the general public mind you. Just the DC CW.

I will predict what I've been predicting all week. By mid next decade, the Democrats will be demoralized and where the GOP finds itself now.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 16, 2007 5:56:41 PM

I don't know if they made that explicit choice, akaison. It's also possible that they're just irrationally terrified of the GOP's supposed power on national security issues, and they backed themselves into what's actually the election-winning strategy. That fits better with the fearful party I knew from 2003-2004, and the FISA vote suggests that fear is still a big thing with them. But then again, Reid's a lot less fearful than Daschle was. So who knows.

We've got a very long way to go, in trying to set up an arrangement of political forces that will govern our country better. But the quickest ways I see for our getting there involve Democrats winning this election, even if today's Senate Democrats are very far from the party I want to see.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 16, 2007 6:40:15 PM

You seem to confuse electoral victory with winning on the substance. That seems to be the fatal flaw on the A list blogs whether its mydd, open left, daily kos or here. You learned the wrong this from Bush. it's true you must win electorally to govern. but it's not true that because you win electorally as a Democrat that you will govern as a progressive.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 16, 2007 6:52:08 PM


Posted by: akaison | Sep 16, 2007 6:52:44 PM

it's not true that because you win electorally as a Democrat that you will govern as a progressive.

I totally agree with that -- it's why I'm doing whatever I can to make Edwards get the nomination and not Hillary. The trouble is that without Democratic electoral victory, we have zero hope of progressive governance. If you want real progressive change, what have to hope for is Democratic electoral victory, plus some interesting wins in leadership fights, plus the right president.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 16, 2007 7:06:17 PM

You seem to confuse electoral victory with winning on the substance.

Right now, in DC, there are thousands of young Republican party activists at all levels of government in every single political appointee position of every single agency. They're making policy, drafting mission statements, and setting priorities. Once a Democrat wins the presidency, all of those Republicans go home, to be replaced by more wonkish, more qualified Democrats, and they'll be the ones running the show. Whether Hillary Clinton wins or whether Dennis Kucinich wins, a large chunk of those may even be the same group of people.

Change is very slow and it is very difficult. The first step is "normalizing" the concept of Democratic party dominance in everyone's mind and shift the dialog leftwards.

Posted by: Tyro | Sep 16, 2007 7:13:31 PM

ThIs was by far and away:


I ever read on Ezra's Website.


To be clear:

A man gushes publicly that the Democrats can pick up additional seats if Democrats can "keep their powder dry" and just prolong the war.

Yeah sure, spill a little more blood of American Soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians, but it's worth it because Democrats will gain seats. Just think of all those extra cocktail party invites. Disgusting.

What's that you say?

You didn't come right out and say the mainstream Democrats were prolonging the war just to gain power...it was only implied.

What's that?

You wouldn't be so stupid as to publicly state what a rats nest of immorality the DINO party has become.

I agree.

It's implicit, not explicit, which makes the establishment DINO party not just whores, but spineless whores, at least the Republican party doesn't pretend to believe in justice.


Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 16, 2007 7:15:04 PM


Please don't pressume to lecture me about how Washington works. If you tthink what S Brennan is somehow better than what the GOP does simply because we elect Democrats, then there is really little that's left to be said. The American certainly didn't vote for the Democrats year under the theory that we would accept power based on sacrificing American soldiers. Let's calla duck a duck. No more cute terms for what you are saying, and no more hiding behind the GOP. This blood is on the Democrats hands if what is being described here is the motivating force for action.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 16, 2007 8:16:58 PM

If I thought that Neil was suggesting that Democrats benefit from continued death and destruction in Iraq, so let's have more of it, I'd be appalled too. Let's be clear - the reason we're not getting out of Iraq is the policies of the President, aided by a substantial Republican minority that in unison can derail the prospects for ending the war. If there's a reason to vote for Democrats and to believe that things will get better when we do that, it's because a Democratic President with greater majorities in both houses won't be President Bush and won't have the obstruction of the GOP in Congress to such a degree. I don't think that will ever be enough to satisfy akaison, whose disillusionment has been palpable for some time, and who is probably quite accurate that things will not change enough in the ways he would like. But really, Nick's right - the alternative to electing Democrats is watching Republicans continue to be in control. And I'm still naive enough to believe that there's enough substantial differences between what happens when Democrats and what happens when someone like Bush is in charge to prefer the former. No one, certainly no one with a shred of humanity, would suggest that we should feel good about reaping electoral victories from the horrors of Iraq. But let's be clear about who's responsible for those horrors, because it's why we want them out of office.

Posted by: weboy | Sep 16, 2007 8:38:23 PM


You don't need a super-majority to defund a war, just a majority, heck committees can tie up a spending bill.

The reason the war has not been defunded is that Democrats see it in THEIR INTEREST to keep the war going, the only question is why?

This post makes the Democrats motivation pretty clear.

Democrats are just pretending to be helpless...that's not leadership, that's cowardice dereliction of duty.

If the Democrats kids were over there, they would not be pulling this crap.

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 16, 2007 9:04:28 PM

To change the subject a bit, I note that Neil invoked the old internet meme that there is a law of diminishing returns in campaign financing. This is true, but not particularly useful. There is also a law of increasing returns. The trick is to know where the inflection point may be, as well as to know if the race is tight enough to be worth the marginal bucks. Remember, the only voter who counts in this calculus is the 50%+1 voter.
But under these cockamamie campaign finance rules we must live with, money is good, and more money for our side is better, and less money for the other guys is best of all. I only hope that Democratic politicians will make campaign financiers realize that funding has consequences. Edwards seems to be doing a nice job of this, in the proper high-minded way.

Posted by: Joe S. | Sep 16, 2007 9:08:10 PM

The silver lining behind Democratic capitulation on Iraq, to talk like a mathematician, is that it reduces the 2008 election to a problem previously solved.

As a recovering mathematician, I'm familiar with the language, but I'm not sure that statement's as true as Dems (or we) would hope.

You see, in 2006, everyone knew that the GOP was responsible for the war (and a whole bunch of other bad shit), and there was reason to get behind the Dems, who (a) were the only real alternative, and (b) hadn't had a chance to do anything about the war or the other bad shit.

In 2008, (a) is still true, but (b) isn't anymore. A lot is going to depend on how forgiving the electorate is of the Dems' failures to end the war, rein in Administration wiretapping and surveillance, restore habeas corpus, and so forth.

If I were a Dem running in 2008, I'd much rather run on "vote Dem - we got America out of Iraq" than "vote Dem, and give us a second chance to get America out of Iraq."

And given that we've failed to get America out of Iraq, I'd want to show that we did every last thing we could try to rein in this lawless Administration - that we made the GOP Senators filibuster, that we used inherent contempt to back up our subpoena power, that when Bush vetoed our bill that funded withdrawal from Iraq, we sent him the same bill again, you name it.

We won in 2006 mostly because we started showing some fight, some moxie. Since May, the Dems have had precious little fight in them anymore. I think the electorate's good for one more bite at the apple, but if we don't come through big-time in 2009, the party may be over all too quickly.

Posted by: low-tech cyclist | Sep 16, 2007 9:22:50 PM

The Dems do not yet have the votes to stop the war. They can't end the war. So why complain when they play it slow and cautious? Lives would be at stake if we could force Bush's hand, but our majorities are too thin. People seem to forget that the only reason Dems have a Senate majority is Because Lieberman (I) chooses to caucus with the Democrats. That is our margin.

2008 comes down to this:

Those who want out will tend to vote Dem.

People who think we can force the President out of a war, solely using the power of the purse, with a majority this slim, don't know politics.

I know a lot of you find this political chess offensive. Grow up. If you want to get out of Iraq stop bitching and help the Democrats win so they are on the hook. Living in some fantasyland where Democrats are keeping us in Iraq is babyish. There are 49 Democratic Senators (50 if you count Bernie Sanders). Dick Cheney is the tiebreaker. We do not (yet) have the power to yank Republicans by the short hairs.

Maybe with some Republican defections, but they haven't happened yet.

The fastest road to getting out of Iraq is by voting for anti-war Dems. In the meantime quit the irrational boo-hooing.

Posted by: tomtom | Sep 16, 2007 11:19:18 PM


Your the one who lacks political acumen.

Your the one refuting with emotional argument.

Please explain why the Dems do not have control of spending bills. Your argument doesn't hold water...some folks took civics classes. The current president does not have unilateral powers, please read up on US Government.

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 16, 2007 11:30:12 PM


Who do you think shows up to this site? I get the feeling some of you think you are on CNN or MSNBC with your talking points all neatly prepared and with expectations that you can run out the clock. Do you honestly think we don't know what is meant by addressing the funding now, the nuiances of it or what it meant versus what is spun? Are you truly that much of a talking head wannabe?

Posted by: akaison | Sep 16, 2007 11:30:35 PM

S Brennan,
The Democrats can pass bill after bill after bill. What they don't have is a veto-proof majority. Bush will veto the bills.

The only option the Democrats have at present is to refuse to put up any spending bills at all, or attach riders to "must pass" bills. This will eventually bring us to a showdown, similar to what happened between Newt and Clinton.

Would we win this showdown? Or would Lieberman stop caucusing with the Dems, a reverse Jeffords move? Or would some lame-ass Dem cave under the pressure?

As I said, we just don't have the votes, yet.

I'm open to being convinced otherwise.

Posted by: tomtom | Sep 16, 2007 11:40:56 PM

Don't do not need a veto proof majority.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 16, 2007 11:45:15 PM

Nice assertion, akaison. What is the strategy?

Posted by: tomtom | Sep 16, 2007 11:50:06 PM


Not the same, the Repus shut down the Government, Clinton did not Veto bills repeatedly...sorry your history is wrong.

If Bush wants to Veto bills it will he who shuts down the Government...as you point out the last time the Repus did that they lost the public, but the house or the Senate remained in their hands. So Republicans shutting down the Government cost them little.


Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 17, 2007 12:02:02 AM

Joe - I accept that there may be inflection points at relatively low dollar numbers, but I think that once we're talking about independent expenditures in the millions, we reach steady diminishing returns in terms of votes won per dollar spent.

tomtom and akaison - We don't need a veto-proof majority, in my view. What we need is 51 Senators willing to vote no on funding. Without GOP defections, we have 49 plus Bernie. I do think that a better-organized strategy, from the ground up, might be able to put pressure on Gordon Smith, John Sununu, Susan Collins, and other vulnerable Republicans such that one of them might snap and vote no on funding. But doing that would require Democrats to have been bold about their media strategies all throughout this year, and it's a little late in the game to pull that off.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 17, 2007 12:10:45 AM

It's unrealistic to expect that Congress can, with bare majorities express it will in cutting spending for the war. In the end, it would be largely a showy exercise in frustration, which would end in even greater capitulation (giving Bush what he wants after a spate of bad press in which we get to hear about how "Democrats hate our fighting men and women") or having Bush do an end run around the restrictions, which it seems clear he would probably do. Passing legislation that gets vetoed, and vetoed and vetoed... will not reverse the impression that Congress is not getting things done. The war remains a Bush operation, run by the Executive. Continuing to rage at Democrats in Congress for what they cannot stop just continues to seem terribly misplaced - and trying to spread blame around only dilutes anger that really should be focused on the President, who remains in the most natural position to end this war and bring troops home. Having more "show" votes to show that we're really really not happy with soldiers being in Iraq... remains a show, not action. To get action, at this point, we need to elect more Democrats. That's what it comes down to, and the alternative is more Republicans. How that would be an improvement eludes me.

Posted by: weboy | Sep 17, 2007 12:12:19 AM

let me tell you what's realistic. the american public already perceives of the democrats as weak. none of this whining about needing more will convince them that we are not. it reinforces it. i constantly amazed at how you think acting weak can be a sign of showing strength.

the strategy tomtom is to have balls enough to be willing to risk something. instead, i see online peo actually arguing shit like "we can't do anything or else they will blame us." let me say right here and now as i said earlier- if this is the mentality that the party has it will be out of power once the GOP regroups in 5 to 10 years. that much is as real as you can get. these victories will be short term because to solidify them we must act differently than the GOP. simply saying "not the gop" may work one or two cycles, but after that- its on us, if it isn't already started to shift.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 17, 2007 12:18:27 AM

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